Annie Fox’s podcast with Amalia Starr

I have come across a brilliant podcast and indeed, a brilliant website. I am a Twitter “friend” of Annie Fox  (@annie_fox) and she recently sent a Tweet about her latest podcast:

#parenting #Autism Just posted new blog/interview w/@AutismMomExpert Got a #specialneeds child? This is 4 U!

Well I don’t have an autistic child (or any child for that matter) but I am a teacher and one who, over many years of experience, has tried to get to know about autism and other conditions of children who may well be in my class or school.

As well as this, I have had to deal with parents who have children with various disabilities, of which autism is just one. It helps, as a teacher, if we can try to relate to what those parents are trying to do on a daily basis for their child and to try and understand how school fits in to the wider life of their child.

The podcast was with Amelia Starr who has written a book called “Raising Brandon” in which she writes about living, loving and understanding her son Brandon who has autism and has learnt to be independent and cope with the world in his own way. Brandon is now 36 years of age and the book is about Amalia’s journey with her son to where he is now.

The podcast is simply riveting from beginning to end. It is so professionally produced by Annie and like all the best of podcasts benefits from the fact that we have two very expressive speakers talking to each other and we feel privileged to be in their company and “overhear” their conversation.

Amalia tells us of the bullying, tormenting and non-acceptance that Brandon had to endure and the way that she had to bring him up, cope with her own feelings about her  adequacy to deal with him, try and be a mother to his brother (who has himself had a journey to understand his brother Brandon) and also deal with the failure of her husband to deal with bringing up an autistic child which eventually led to her marriage split up.

I found this podcast moving and enlightening. I feel that Annie’s comments at one point, where she said that Amalia’s observations about parenting Brandon were really about parenting any child, were absolutely the case.

I wrote to Annie saying that I was impressed by her podcast and she wrote back suggesting that I look at her other podcasts on her website So far I have managed to listen to “So Sexy So Soon” with Diane E. Levin, which was again an excellent podcast on an important issue for parents and of course, for us teachers.

I shall work my way through these podcasts and am really pleased that I have managed to find such a really good resource which I am happy to recommend to others.


I “discovered” this program about a year and a half ago. A colleague told me to look up “Furbles” which is an excellent data representation program using little creatures whose characteristics can be changed and represented graphically.

On going to the website I found that there was another program called “Primitives”. This was a real find. I think it is a work of internet genius. It represents all of the numbers by colour coding them and then allowing you to see how they factorise (or not… since if they can only be populated by dots then they are obviously prime!).

I have used this free program with many children (aged 7 to 11) who absolutely love it. The reason is not to do with the numbers and their properties but the sheer artistic beauty of the representations of the numbers.

I would urge you to take a look at it and then, if you are brave enough, let the children play around with it… do not teach them anything! Let them explore and find out about the multiples, factors and division facts.. you will be surprised at the results but most importantly you will get them to see the joy and fun and beauty of numbers and that is something that no boring textbook or interactive whiteboard program or worse still you telling them a fact will ever have.

The Internet Hedgehog bites back!

I have been following the B.B.C. Series “Virtual Revolution” and have so far reviewed the first of its four programmes in this blog (see earlier postings under the title “Virtual Revolution”). web site:

Those ten or twenty loyal followers who have read these postings will know that I have not been blown away by this series so far. This has been a very negative type of series that has looked at the dark side of the internet and the undoubted threats to our freedom from personal information becoming available so easily with the rise of social networking programmes such as MySpace and Facebook.

The last programme was called “Homo Interneticus” and took on the huge subject of how we, as a species, are being changed by the web revolution. (As an aside I still don’t get the “Virtual revolution” title as, virtual reality was hardly mentioned in all four episodes other than a short bit on “Second Life”).

They looked at the younger generation and concluded that they were “Internet Foxes” able to multitask and jump from one screen to another in no-time, eat their meal, text on their i-phone and even say the odd intelligible word or phrase.

This animal analogy was used as the basis of a test that was conducted at University College in London with people of different ages, races and gender.They found that generally, the younger you are the more likely you are to be able to multitask, the older you are then you are at the other end of the spectrum, a hedgehog… slow in the search for information and very much a one-stop-shopper who is unable to chew gum and surf the web at the same time!

The test that they used was available online :

I took the test and came out as ….a hedgehog. Now I’m aware that I’m as ancient as they come in comparison to those fresh-faced M.I.T. geniuses that they showed in the programme but I can hold my own on the net… well, maybe I am a bit slow and my wife has to shriek at me to get my attention… but a hedgehog!

Well the hedgehog is going to bite back! I was not impressed with the way that the potential of the internet was given such little time throughout the series. The brilliant things that children have produced using the web was mostly overlooked. The potential of the web to break down barriers and get children from all over the world collaborating was mostly overlooked. There was just one positive piece from Korea towards the end of the programme.

In this blog, this hedgehog has laboured slowly to use the power of the internet to communicate with some brilliant educators, I’ve  join in online discussions on Twitter about technology and I have read the blogs of great internet  fox children  in Van Meter, Iowa.

I believe that the internet is a potentially powerful force for good, but I am not blind to its problems… it represents all of us human “animals” from the good to the evil just as society does. It does though provide opportunities for study and learning that this hedgehog could not even have dreamt of as I was making my slow progress from the Sinclair ZX, to the B.B.C. B to the great day I actually could afford and got my first laptop.

I learn a lot from it in my slow old way… just think of what our children are learning as I type this… and what their children might yet learn and become!

Race To Nowhere

I get the links to some fascinating ideas and causes through Twitter. Every now and again you follow a link and it leads you to something that you find a bit special.

I got up this morning, checked my messages on gmail and found that I had a new Twitter follower, a 2nd Grade teacher called Kristina Peters. I looked her up and found that she had a few Tweets and this was the third one down:

RT @kjarrett: New documentary – The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture | Race to Nowhere

This is the way that it happens with Twitter. We pass on interesting links within our network of friends and this link was to lead to me to a fascinating project.

I started by watching the film’s trailer.

This whole project resonates  with me because the “stressing out” of our children and the constant hunt for grades and the unnecessary use of homework as a tool for extending learning are very much a part of the culture here in the U.K. where I live as much as it is in the U.S.A.

But it goes further than that. The film bravely tackles the question of children committing suicide because they cannot cope with the stress. This is something that I have heard of in Japan, the U.S.A. and over here in my country the U.K. It is not acceptable in any way… we cannot condone a society that puts our children under so much stress that they feel the need to kill themselves (before you wade in with the fact that children commit suicide for many reasons i.e. bullying, sexual identity problems, falling out big time with friends… I know that but am referring to those suicides that are purely down to school pressures).

This is a brave project and the film needs to be seen and discussed and hopefully it  might lead to changes in the U.S. educational system as well as in other countries such as my own. Look up the website for the Project The resources section is excellent… look up some of the websites and the people involved… better still get involved yourself.


As I stated in yesterday’s post (“In Praise of Diigo”) I am fortunate in being a follower of the group “Van Meter” in Diigo. I get regular brilliant links to exciting sites that widen and widen my awareness of the growing digital world and the possibility of applications to children’s learning.

Yesterday I received my gmail update from the group and discovered 8 items. Looking up and down the list two things caught my eye. The first was an item called “Microblogging: making the case for social networking in education” it is from a really good blog called “Box of Tricks” This was an impressive posting from an astute teacher who is looking for ways to increase learning for his students. I was so impressed with the article that I left a comment and am now following the blog. (This is the joy of blogging where we all feel ourselves to be part of a community and are always impressed by new finds when we discover or are given a link to someone’s interesting or exciting site).

In the posting, José Picardo, the blogger, wrote about introducing a new program to encourage his students to write and communicate. This “microblogging”  program is called “Edmodo” The advantage of this program is that it creates a format that is very similar to “Facebook” which the students are very familiar with and therefore attempts to bring a private, secure classroom based communications process into the classroom using a format that students are happy to use.

When I say happy I really mean this because another link in the Van Meter Diigo update was to an ABC Chicago report on their News Programme. The link is

This was a brilliant report which mentioned Edmodo and how it is being used in classrooms as well as showing the potential for technology to help students learn. Take a look at it.. it is well worthwhile.

I have been onto Edmodo to see what it looks like. It is free to use and I would think would be something that schools everywhere could benefit by. I am just sorry that it seems to be applicable at the moment to schools in the United States only… here in the U.K. where I live we have a large number of schools that could make very good use of it.

In praise of Diigo

I have been fortunate to have had a headstart in my learning about new technology. I have a brother who is a university librarian.One of the first sites that he pointed out to me as a useful site for bookmarking what I found when searching the internet was Delicious

At that time I didn’t really make the best use of the facilities to bookmark and share my bookmarks with others that Delicious gave me. When I discovered a new zest for learning about new technology and its applications to education I soon found out how useful it is to bookmark a page when I come to it so that I can return to it later for deeper reading or to take from it specific quotes which could be highlighted.

I was fortunate in finding a lot of my earliest contacts through “The Educator’s PLN” , a Ning site that acts a social network for educators interested in the use of web 2.0 tools in education. Many of the educators had a Diigo reference that led me to look up this particular program.

I found Diigo absolutely brilliant and easy to use from the very beginning. I could highlight things and save the highlights (which I could then include as quotes in future blog postings such as these!) I could save bookmarked pages to my library and also, I could actually share my library with others and receive their updates and bookmarks.

As those of you who are regular followers of this blog (and I believe there are a few) will know, I am a great admirer of Elementary and High Schools in Van Meter Iowa, which has a superb technologically aware group of leaders and an excellent librarian who is amazingly up-to-date in her skills in accessing and publishing new links (seemingly every day) to the amazing potential for education of web 2.0. Her name is Shannon Miller and I have written about her and her school’s wonderful library site earlier in this blog

Today I received my usual daily update from the Van Meter Library Diigo site which I am a follower of. This is where I really get excited by Diigo’s potential. This link is shared with all of the followers of the site and therefore, for students, it allows them to keep in touch and then look up these sites for themselves. This opens up the world of learning and means that discoveries of brilliant sites, videos, recordings etc., can be shared.

Today’s posting got me to look up a video from ABC News in Chicago and a brilliant resource called “Edmodo” which I shall be writing about in my next blog posting. Thanks to Shannon for the links and to Diigo for making it work so well.

Incidentally, Diigo allows teachers to open a site which they can share with their students. If you get the chance look into this… it really has great potential for you and your students.

Adora Svitak: The world’s youngest teacher

I first came across Adora as a she was mentioned in Curtis Bonk’s book “The World Is Open” (which I wrote about in an earlier posting).

Curtis stated that he was amazed by this young lady and what she had managed to achieve in terms of having written three published books, poetry and also becoming a teacher who uses new technology as the means to get to her “audience”.

She is also an accomplished speaker who has just appeared at the 2010 TED Conference!

What excites me about Adora is that she is a true child of the Digital Age and is probably its first prodigy/genius but not its last! To get a flavour for the character and personality of Adora look at the video and then go to her website Look out for her TED Talk when it appears on the web it is bound to become one of the favourites from the current series of Talks and I would bet that it may not be her last one!

Vodpod videos no longer available.